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The Theory of Historical Cycles. II. Cycles And Progress

  • R. G. Collingwood

When Huckleberry Finn's religious education was taken in hand by the Widow and Miss Watson, his impressionable mind was at first strongly affected—in his own words, he was all in a sweat—on hearing the story of Moses. Later, his interest in Moses cooled off, because Miss Watson let out that Moses had been dead a considerable time, and Huckleberry Finn, as he explains, took no stock in dead men.

It was a very naïve reaction to history; but naïve reactions often reveal truths which are blurred by a more sophisticated attitude, and must somehow be recaptured before we can see things as they are. Huckleberry Finn may here stand as the babe or suckling out of whose mouth the historian is to learn wisdom.

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1 Humphry Clinker (Works, ed. 1806) p. 200. After describing the interior as a vast charnel-house, he goes on, ‘the external appearance of an old cathedral cannot be but displeasing to the eye of every man who has any idea of propriety or proportion’, and especially objects to the ‘long slender spire’, which ‘puts one in mind of a criminal impaled’. It is safe to attribute Matthew Bramble’s opinions to Smollett himself.

2 Revolutions of Civilisation, 1922, p.60 etc.

3 Revolutions, p. 6 (fig. 2), p. 59.

4 op. cit., fig. I.

5 Collingwood, W.G. Northumbrian Crosses, p.49.

6 J. B. Bury, The Idea of Progress, gives an invaluable account of the growth and development of the idea.

7 Thus Messrs Goddard and Gibbons (Civilisation or Civilisations, 1926) set out confessedly to popularize Spengler, but announce without apparent misgiving that ‘it is not always possible to accept his interpretations’ and in fact modify his scheme to taste.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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